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Layoffs and closures: COVID-19 takes economic toll

Florida launching several new programs to help small businesses make payroll, pay bills, retain staff

MIAMI – Gramps in Wynwood is a popular meeting spot for Miami’s creatives. Home to thoughtful and engaging community programming, like Nerd Nite Miami, it is a place for fun and conversation.

It is in that spirit of nuanced dialogue that owner Adam Gersten found himself in the friction of supporting social distancing recommendations from public health officials to save lives and prevent a hospital surge, and the reality of absorbing the related economic ramifications of those measures.

He said he felt uncomfortable seeing a sizable crowd last Saturday night. Understanding, the role he plays in slowing the spread of a COVID-19 outbreak in progress, he decided to voluntarily close for the public good.

“Money wise, it is a disaster,” he said. “I don’t have my head in the sand about that,” adding it was the recommendations of public health officials that weighed heavily on him.

Michael Finney, President and CEO of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council told Local 10’s Christina Vazquez that they had not heard of businesses struggling before the COVID-19 cancellations and social distancing measures began to expand.

With experience guiding communities toward recovery from economic downturns, he said businesses facing an economic hit from the COVID-19 pandemic is both unusual and unique in its related challenges.

“This one is driven,” he said, “Not necessarily by normal business cycle factors but by a disease. Not understanding exactly how long it’s going to take for people to recover is a little more difficult to predict, so there is more apprehension around how fast we will recover from this.”

He said the business owners he has been speaking with are focused on how they can get back up their feet once they get to recovery.

“And lets hope all the doctors and scientists and health professionals working on it get to solutions relatively quickly,” he added.

Finney said while that work is being done, state leaders have launched three resources aimed at helping small businesses with expenses and staff retention.

1: Business Damage Assessment Survey

The state is urging business owners to complete a survey explaining the impacts of coronavirus on their business and the local economy. Finney said this data will be leverage to design recovery programs, resources, and initiatives.

  • U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Loans. On Sunday, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced new SBA low interest loans of upwards of $2 million that the Beacon Council says businesses facing “economic injury” due to COVID-19 can use to “pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable, and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact.” These are also available to nonprofit organizations.
  • There is also an innovate Short Time Compensation Program aimed at helping business owners retain rather than lay-off staff. Run by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, it helps employers maintain their staff by reducing the weekly working hours during temporary slowdowns to mitigate against lay-offs.

“High quality workers that you need to keep, you can actually reduce their hours to less than full-time and then keep those employees on board and this program will reimburse the employer for that cost,” Finney explained. “The employee will get full pay and the company will be reimbursed for it.”

EMPLOYERS: To apply for the Short Time Compensation Program (required for employees to submit a re-employment claim), visit https://connect.myflorida.com/Employer/Core/Login.ASPX.

EMPLOYEES & EMPLOYERS: For more information on the FL DEO’s Short Time Compensation Program, visit http://floridajobs.org/office-directory/division-of-workforce-services/reemployment-assistance-programs/short-time-compensation-program-for-employees

This could help workers like Camilo Linares, a father of two now out of work after losing his job last week. Linares is a lighting designer for a audio visual company and knew trouble was on the horizon following a flurry of sudden event cancellations. Last Thursday he received the notification that he was being laid-off. With the events industry facing a global work stoppage, finding new work in his area of expertise is nearly impossible. He worries about being able to pay the mortgage as this slowdown with an uncertain end date continues to develop.

It is workers like Linares on the mind of Miami City Commissioner Manolo Reyes who just wrote a letter to Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis urging him to speak to federal counterparts on how to help those now out of a job.

“In addition to your earlier request to the Federal Government to open the small business loan programs to provide relief to the thousands of small business owners that have been affected by this crisis,” wrote Reyes, “we must also not forget our workforce. I believe it is time to request from our Federal counterparts that they establish a program similar to the Federal Disaster Relief to make sure that an Unemployment Assistance program is available to assist those with loss of wages due to this national crisis. Our hard-working residents will be hit hard by this crisis, and I believe it is our duty to help them keep going and keep their families safe.“

EXISTENTIAL THREAT:

Annie Lee owns the event planning business Daughter of Design. She said the events and catering sector has already been hit hard since their industry first started seeing Coronavirus-related cancellations a month ago while future bookings are being wiped from event calendars. She says layoffs and business closures are already underway. This for example includes Joy Wallace Catering who confirmed with Local 10 News today that they have closed shop until at least the summer.

Lee is asking clients to postpone rather than cancel events, a move she said will help companies retain income which could save the industry from collapse.

She just launched the website https://www.savetheeventindustry.com/ that is becoming a warehouse of ideas of how to put idle event planners and related staff back to work. They have brainstormed ways to perhaps transition their skills and resources to support the anticipated investment in medical support. Take for example the possible need for chair and table rentals as the state explores converting vacant medical buildings and facilities for possible COVID-19 patient isolation and treatment centers.

Gersten says he will be looking into the programs available for small business owners as he tries to find the best path forward for his staff and looks ahead to an eventual recovery period. ”The future is not clear,” he said, “but you have to look to the horizon and that is what I am doing to keep sanity.”


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